19 Jul

In yer face

O dear God, what are we coming to?

A near relative of Don Lock, stabbed to death after a minor traffic accident in Sussex, came on Radio Four to give thanks for that “We have been completely inundated. People have tweeted to say that they’ve replaced their own image on their Facebook page with that of Don.”

And have we come to this? I thought we’d reached the bottom when expressions of grief and sympathy at the time of the death of the People’s Princess in 1997 chiefly consisted in the bestowing of more flowers than you’d need for the Chelsea Festival in front of Kensington Palace. And more than half the population glued to images of funerals on TV, relieved only by the sight of hundreds of gross sentimentalists running out into the street to throw teddy bears at passing hearses.

But that was restraint compared with what we have today.

We inhabit a gadgeteered, narcissistic, sentimental bedlam. Institutionalised me-ism. The word selfie says it all. I recall Dr Johnson saying of a particularly odious contemporary: “That man would roll in the gutter – if only someone would look at him.”

Nowadays, if you will pardon the mixed metaphor, we roll in the gutter at the drop of a hat. 

People replacing their own mugshot on Facebook with that of a deceased person they never met? That cannot possibly be sincere. 

In better days, if we were informed of the untimely death of an acquaintance – never mind a perfect stranger – we would quietly express sympathy and perhaps say a prayer for the repose of the departed soul. The words decency and in order come to mind. Now we do something akin to setting up a gaudy advert – the electronic equivalent of shouting one’s virtue from the rooftops.

It was the Scribes and Pharisees, lovers of such outward show, who came in for Jesus’ severest condemnation: “Be not ye like unto them.”

And that close relative, why did he feel the urge to give a press conference, as if he were a chamberlain in the royal household bringing news of the death of the prince? Grief and bereavement used to encourage us to withdraw, to reflect and above all to be silent. Again the word respect comes to mind.

A death should be mourned, not tweeted.

We have lost all rational use of the word private.

How much further into this vulgar process of electronic abstraction do we have to go before we shall no longer speak to one another as we used to speak in the street, but only the gadgets will do our talking for us?

The Greek drama provided that the most tragic scenes should take place offstage. The word they used for this was obscene

If even parts of the Greek tragedies were regarded as obscene, what words are left to describe our universal mawkish obsession with the gadgets?